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Virtues in Paradise: The secret of freedom

Saturday 25 May 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion, Virtues in Paradise


Have you ever felt truly free? What does that even mean, you may well ask, writes Linda Kavelin-Popov.

There is freedom from … from addictions, excessive guilt, anger, abuse, anxiety, obsessive thoughts. Freedom from these things is essential for our mental health and wellbeing.

Then, there is freedom to … to be happy, do what you love, love what you do, make a contribution, cover your expenses (financial freedom), and dream your dreams.

My husband Dan and I were talking to a friend who has worked for government more than thirty years and is soon to retire. “What will you do after you retire?” Dan asked. Our friend’s face lit up in a wide smile. “I’ll travel, plant, make food to sell.” He shared that he and his wife make about $500 selling prepared meals once a week, delivering them to local shops. “By the time we come back from the truck with a second bin of food, the first one is already gone!’ he said. “People line up waiting for our plates of food.”

I call this kind of retirement “the Freedom Season”. What has allowed our friend to reach this goal? First, his decision to seek education while he was young. Second, working hard for many years, saving his money, and having a plan. He has practiced the virtues of diligence, self-discipline, and patience.

The deepest kind of freedom is spiritual freedom, which brings the gift of self-mastery. Rather than being tossed around by the winds of anger or desire, we can choose to practice self-discipline and detachment. All the world’s religions focus on virtues as the very meaning and purpose of our lives.

Galatians 5:22-23 describes virtues as “the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The teachings of the Buddha say, “Do what is right. Be pure. At the end of the way is freedom. Till then, patience.” The Qur’an says: “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”

Self-regulation sets us free from the chaos of strong emotions. How do you actually do self-control or self-discipline? How do you cultivate that fruit in your spirit?

Decide. Decide to choose what you DO want in your own behaviour. Focus on the virtue you intend to practice instead of giving in to strong negative emotions. For example, if you are critical of others and tend to tell them off, you can start to practice tact. Pause before saying something you will regret. If someone expresses a view you disagree with or gets aggressive and angry at you, choose to get curious instead of furious, by seeking to understand them. Listen with compassion and detachment. “Help me understand the way you see it.” Or “What have I said or done to offend you?” It’s remarkable how a sincere desire to connect rather than defend or attack calms a hot situation.

We have so much more power and freedom than we know. The virtues are our superpowers, and as Christian monk, Tolbert McCarroll says, “Virtue is the muscle tone in the daily and hourly training of a spiritual warrior.” The fruits of the spirit aren’t just nice to have, or vague hopes. They’re choices and practices. They are our spiritual muscles, and they grow stronger every time we use them.